All of these welding systems work essentially the same: An electric arc generates enough heat between the electrode (stick or wire) and the metal being joined to melt both together and create the bond. To ensure a strong bond, the super-hot area around the weld is surrounded by a cloud of inert gas to prevent oxygen and contaminants in the air from weakening the weld. That gas is provided either by the flux inside or around the electrode, or by a bottle of gas that feeds the joint as you weld.
Choosing Your First Welder
To get started, you’ll likely spend $200 to $400 for a quality welding machine. Check online to see the range of what’s available because most home centers carry only one or two models. A 120-volt welder, powered by a conventional outlet, can weld metal up to 5/16 in. thick. You’ll need at least a 20-amp (preferably a 30-amp) circuit.
The higher your machine’s amp output, the thicker the material it can weld. Most people work with angle iron and tube steel no thicker than 1/4 in. Any 120-volt machine will suffice for this.
If you’re really serious about welding and want more flexibility for future projects, get a 240-volt machine powered by a 50-amp circuit. A 240-volt machine makes welding thick material much easier and faster. Most welding machines have a chart inside a flip-up hood detailing the exact setup you’ll need (amps, electrode size, etc.) for a given thickness of material. You can buy a single machine capable of MIG, TIG and stick, but it’ll cost about $1,200.
Besides the welding machine, set aside about $200 for basic accessories.